I think Mia Hansen-Love gets the tone just right in her third feature, “Goodbye First Love”. That’s especially important because it is a mood piece, after all, and there’s not anything particularly dense as far as narrative goes. Also, being that Ms. Hansen-Love was just 30 years old at the time of this film’s release in France last summer is telling too. That makes her not all that far removed from the age that the character of Camille(the fetching Lola Creton)is supposed to be by the time “Goodbye First Love” closes with a lingering shot of a peaceful lake in the wilderness. That body of water comes into play in the early stages of the story too. There’s probably a half-dozen or so water metaphors I can come up with for this directorial choice, but I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them matter. The image speaks for itself, and it’s potent, lyrical and nostalgic. The movie is a beautiful piece of work, that managed to reignite my periodic French girl fantasies months ahead of Julie Delpy fulfilling that role in 2013’s “Before Midnight”. When I learned that Ms. Creton was somewhat shy of her 18th birthday when “Goodbye First Love” was released, I felt(somewhat)like a dirty old man. Not too much, though—this is set in Paris by the way, and the actress’ name is Lola. So, I felt I could be given a pass. Hey, if I’m stereotyping—it’s my fantasy! So, cut me a little slack.
Camille(Ms. Creton) and Sullivan(Sebastian Urzendowsky) are gorgeous young lovers in their teens. Their passion is impossibly deep, and their devotion appears to be unbreakable. But Sullivan is itching to spread his wings and embark on a nearly year-long trip to South America with his friends. He adores Camille, but feels stifled and out-of-place in his homeland. Sullivan wants more. Camille is insecure and petulant as Sullivan prepares to leave, but he pledges his eternal love, says that he will write often—and promises to return soon. You see where this is headed, right? As time goes by, Sullivan’s letters become more sporadic, and Camille becomes increasingly distraught. When the originally forecast length of Sullivan’s journey is surpassed, and contact has ceased, the level of Camille’s depression reaches a drastic level. She finally emerges from all this with the help of her family. Camille moves on to college, forms a new life and eventually begins a relationship with a much older lecturer at her school. Eight years have now passed…and then Sullivan returns.
The beauty and intensity of first love is wonderfully realized in this deceptively simple character study. The melancholy songs played throughout had me recalling “The Graduate” and Richard Linklater’s “Before” series. Capturing true innocence has become increasingly difficult in this jaded and technology-pumped society, so Hansen-Love’s sure hand is commendable. I’m 47 now, but I can certainly remember the power of those pangs from fleeting romances(some realized, some not)from 30-odd years ago. I’m sure that readers who are 57 or 77 will experience similar feelings viewing this film. You wallow in those emotions during your youth, and lament that it will never get better with time. It does get better, of course(for most of us I feel duty-bound to say), and there is usually the appearance of someone else. And that person often almost completely erases the spectre of the past. But what if that first love unexpectedly returns? And what if certain passions reignite? And did they ever truly vanish in the first place? There is ample nudity in “Goodbye First Love”, but it never feels excessive. This wasn’t made in the States—it’s a European production through and through. So, the nudity acknowledgment should not be viewed as a warning of any kind. It fact, it should be seen as a recommendation. There is nothing “dirty” about seeing the young, naked bodies of the lovely twosome. It all comes across as perfectly natural and unforced. The entire venture comes off that way actually. And it would be a shame if you let this delightful remembrance slide by. Grade: A-